Hyderabad Blues 2: Kukunoor’s “Scenes from a Marriage”
Srikanth Srinivasan writes about Nagesh Kukunoor’s Hyderabad Blues 2
“Indie Cinema” and “Indian Cinema” – Totally unlike the way they sound similar, the two terms have come to bear quite an adversarial relationship to each other. Undoubtedly, Nagesh Kukunoor forms a vital milestone in the history of Indian Independent cinema and stays in the cream of my list of most important contemporary film directors from the country in spite of his recent debacle Bombay to Bangkok (2007) whose elusive charm eluded most of us! Nevertheless, his films like Rockford (1999), Hyderabad Blues (1998) and its sequel still have the potential to inspire anyone to take up a camera and have taken the esoteric world of Independent films into the households.
And I felt Hyderabad Blues deserves an article in spite of the flak it faces regularly from the lovers of the earlier film. The central character Varun (Nagesh Kukunoor) has already been introduced to us as a broadminded, level-headed and immensely cool gentleman who has been charmed into staying in India by his bold and independent wife, Ashwini (Jyoti Dogra). Varun hangs out with his group of friends consisting of married and single men but most importantly with Sanjeev (Vikram Inamdar) who warns Varun about all the difficulties in having a baby that he has learned the hard way. Ashwini, meanwhile, hangs out with Sanjeev’s resourceful and cunning wife Seema (Elahé Hiptoola).
All is fine with the lead couple until the wife wants to have a child. Varun, however, is totally unprepared and tries to avert the matter. Things don’t help when Varun’s employee Menaka (Tisca Chopra) is found wooing him in the office by another resentful employee and the issue promptly goes to Ashwini. And just like that, they land up in court debating divorce and eventually getting it. Hyderabad Blues gets all the characters right. Be it the consciously flawed Varun or his voluntarily subordinating mother, you see them all in everyday life. And herein lies Kukunoor’s keenly discerning eye that penetrates into the real workings of the society, without the regular mainstream makeup.
I always thought Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973) was a great idea (with performances of a lifetime by Josephson and Ullman) overstaying its welcome. But after watching a series of films on the subject culminating with Hyderabad Blues 2, I have come to realize that divorce, in most cases, is itself a very precipitous event and to portray one, the film’s runtime has to be suitably long in order to highlight the impulsive nature of the decision. And Hyderabad Blues does that without making the film once gloomy or overly melodramatic. All this apparent lightness never takes the solemnity of its objective and only aids the film to move closer to reality.
Hyderabad Blues 2 bears a relation to its predecessor somewhat in the same way Toy Story 2 (1999) is linked to its path breaking prequel (1995). In both cases, arguably the sequel is better in terms of the production values and the wholesomeness of the film. However, it is the prequel that is revered unanimously since they are the ones that gave birth to the sequels and they are the ones that changed the way people looked at films of their kind. Hence, the prequels naturally become close to heart and their successors easily dumped. When Hyderabad Blues came out, it was an instant hit. It captured, with near perfection, the way how anyone in the position of Varun feels, trying to cope up with the increased moral and cultural standards and decreased technological advancements.
Hyderabad Blues 2 is as hilarious as it is outrageous. Though most of the dialogue is in English, they never once feel contrived or out of place. Be the typically American wit of Varun or the bumbling acts of Sanjeev (“Pardon my wife. She has a problem with truth. Always speaks it out” is a knockout), they put one instantly at ease even if the sudden dose of iconoclasm as compared to the first film catches one unawares. By iconoclasm, I do not refer the film’s reflections on the society but on the country’s cinema itself. I wonder if the film would have been so open had it been made under the big banners. And thank god that wasn’t the case.